And even the kitchen sink!


I’ve decided, quite excitingly ( for me anyway) to give my blog a face-lift, and so next time I post you may find a few changes to the layout and header, but for today I’m going to tell you about the much needed face- lift for our very neglected kitchen!

Anyone that’s rented in France will know that the ‘oh so’ well known english expression, “taking everything but the kitchen sink” is not a figurative expression here when it comes to house moving, but a very big reality. It’s very common to arrive at a new rental or purchase property to find that in the kitchen there is only one item- quite literally a sink, often without even a cabinet below it.

Annonce1-photo4 (2)It was almost the case when we first moved into our house. The elderly Monsieur from whom we’d bought it had gaily lived his life using the top of his mini fridge as his work top, with a small wooden table in the centre of the room. The sink, on a very dilapidated cabinet in the corner was built for a very diminutive person, and washing up bent double to achieve the right height was not a pleasant experience. For three years we nevertheless continued with his tradition.WP_20150103_006I made a very half hearted attempt to paint the cupboard.WP_20160115_002It wasn’t strictly necessary to struggle on, but ‘husband a l’étranger ‘, as he was at the time , and I had come to an impasse over what would be the replacement sink. Husband ‘a l’étranger’ was very fond of the old battered ceramic sink, complete with chips, yellowing and scratches, and I was all for a modern but similar replacement. Gradually he begun to comment about the presence of some interminable flies which seem to appear from nowhere just after he had cleared the last lot through the door. For my part, I was anxious about the damp under the sink which turned out dishwasher salt into a nasty clump, and let’s not even mention the wet patch in the cellar which had convinced me that we had an major underground drain leak.

At the same time as we bought our island unit to give us a decent worktop, I bought a matching base unit for a future sink. I also searched around for quite some time, looking for a new ceramic sink. It took a lot of finding as I wanted 2 bowls, and Husband ‘a l’étranger ‘ wanted an integral draining board. It had to be as near to a metre long to fit into the space I calculated would be available after the base cupboard was modified. Eventually, at great cost I found one.When it arrived on the truck it took 2 strong men to lift it, and it was put in the corner of the dining room…where it stayed for nearly for two years! Husband ‘a l’étranger ‘ cocked a snook at the lovely new white ceramic sink declaring that my idea of converting the base unit cupboard, which was designed for a single Belfast sink, into a double Belfast sink was nigh on impossible. He went to Emmaus and bought a competing sink for 15 € in a style circa 1970, which would involve, yes you guessed it, modifying the base unit as his was a “sit- on”, rather than a “sit-in” style.

The stand off lasted longer than I bear to think about, but approximately two years! Half the trouble was that ripping out a kitchen sink completely handicaps the functioning of a kitchen and there wasn’t quite enough impetus to make it happen. At some point into the second year I disappeared into the garage, and only came back inside once the base unit had been completely painted, – except for the area which needed to be modified and cut away.

Husband ‘a l’étranger went into the garage and balanced his sit-on sink on top of the base unit, and gradually the whole turned into a new dumping ground for various bike helmets, tools and ‘odds and sods’!

And so the stand-off continued.

And then, in November, the mighty ‘hand of god’ intervened with his ‘acte de dieu’ and our dishwasher spontaneously went up in flames at five o’clock in the morning. And there’s nothing like being forced to wash up for a family of six at a very low sink to focus the mind.

The following Sunday, Husband ‘a l’étranger’ rose from his seat in the sitting room and disappeared into the garage and suddenly the sound of a saw could be heard. Within a couple of hours the offending piece of base unit was removed and a double sink size space was created in its place.

The following day the cupboard and sink from the kitchen saw their last.And from that moment we haven’t looked back!A support was made for the new heavy sink:You can see how we cut away the right-hand drawer to increase the space for the sink.The biggest detail issue was how to close of the space between the sides of the sink and the base unit, which we did with a thin piece of timber panel, slightly recessed and painted the same colour.We closed of the left hand end of the freestanding base unit with the wall with another piece of recessed painted panel, placed the new dishwasher in its position with a temporary door and laid on the oak worktop.

The next issue was how to deal with the small spaces either side of the cooker.

Matching the feet of the freestanding unit we made a faux left-hand panel and a fixed right hand panel. The centre part of the left hand side panel opens with a narrow pull-out bottle drawer.On-line I had discovered a company who made paneled dishwasher doors in a shaker-style. Their excellent design with identical feet to our kitchen units would have been ideal but unfortunately theirs was designed for a higher worktop and an XXL dishwasher. Neither of which we had.

Husband ‘a l’étranger’ thought I was more than a little mad (and rather demanding) when I suggested copying the design and making it ourselves.The idea was to make the dishwasher door resemble a free-standing unit, and therefore a door within a frame. However the door and frame are actually just a door!Here it is with the leg part of the frame cut off, fixed to the dishwasher and with painting just underway.And here it is fully painted with the legs in place. If you look carefully you can see the horizontal cut across the legs which is where the dishwasher door opens at its hinges. Without the cut the dishwasher would never open!

The full width of the dishwasher door runs from washing machine on the right to sink unit on the left, but yet it looks like a freestanding unit in itself. I think you’ll agree it’s a great design, (and build), neither of which I can take credit for.

….and the flies, well they had made their nice home in the old overflow pipe of the old sink, and the old waste pipe had been silently dripping for years into the sink cupboard and down to the cellar below. Now both issues are something of the past.

There’s something about creating and building for oneself, I get a little bit of pleasure each time I have to open the dishwasher and load it up…

….and that’s got to be a first!

A Long Shower


Our bathroom is one of those horrors you hope never to come across, even after years in the wilderness, yet it has taunted us for three long years since moving into the house. In an attempt to protect the most sensitive amongst you, I spent a while cleaning before taking the photos, but even one of my dear friends conceded, after putting her back into the task that the bath was uncleanable and perhaps should be painted just to tide us over( excuse the pun)!

As you can see we have an interesting blocked-up window, rather outrageous pink tiles, and a glaringly pink cupboard..

..notwithstanding the terrible peeling paint issue..and let’s not mention the dirty bath again! The plumber told me that the silicone sealant should be redone every year, but if you knew about the water that insisted on finding it’s way between the bath and the wall, and positively wrecking the sitting room ceiling below, you’ll know why, now that we’ve managed to waterproof the joint, we have no intention of picking it all out and starting over again.

But when you only have one bathroom to share amongst six people, with four of them being adolescents, ripping it out the entire bathroom has simply never been an option.

Off the master-bedroom, however, was a tiny “coin lavabo” (basin corner), and just behind it, opening onto the landing was a large-ish cupboard, and though storage is very crucial, we decided to move the partition wall to create a larger space for a “coin douche” ( shower room) and a smaller cupboard instead.

This decision was made a year and a half ago, so you will be forgiven for thinking that we’ve made heavy weather of it. What’s held us back has been an annoying detail called ‘jobs’ and the need to seriously waterproof the space as directly below is our hallway. Living in Normandy we had no great desire to come inside from one shower straight into another one coming through the ceiling!

The first part of the construction process saw us full of enthusiasm. After all there is nothing more satisfying than knocking down walls! The next process, buying the products, was equally satisfying, but that’s when work pressures got too intense and the project ground down.

This summer with the prospect of using the bathroom becoming less and less appealing, I finally, and uncharacteristically turned to the professionals!

The first plumber who came to quote arrived in his shiny polished pointed shoes and impeccable suit. He enthusiastically declared anything was possible. His quote was so much lower than the others our confidence ebbed as his increased.

The second frowned for several minutes and then appeared reassuringly knowledgeable, batting away our more crazy ideas and coming up far more realistic alternatives. But on his way out declared that he couldn’t ‘insure’ leaks from the products we had already bought.

The third, jovial and encouraging plumber came up with an excellent idea to remove the necessity for a ‘trap-door’ to get to hidden piping by turning the entire shower through 90 degrees and having the pipe work accessible from the reduced sized landing cupboard. He was our first choice but he never sent us a quote.

In the end plumber number two was available with a space in his calendar to construct our shower the first week of September. He did a beautiful job, happily turning the shower through 90 degrees without argument, and left several days later having even tiled the rest of the shower-room floor which I’m sure we hadn’t even asked him to do in the first place!

So why, you might ask, am I only telling you about it now, at the end of November?

It turns out, you see, that turning a shower tray through 90 degrees is not a very good idea. Now the slope of the shower to the drain is exactly where we need to put our shower screen. And I defy you to find me a shower screen manufacturer who makes shower screens that slope by 28mm from left to right along their bottom edge!

There’s a Do it Yourself store in France called Leroy Merlin, it’s a bit of a play on words actually. When pronounced correctly it really says Le Roi Merlin, ( king Merlin) and old Merlin was allegedly a bit of a magical chap. So this seemed the ideal place to find a shower screen solution. I fell upon a very nice assistant at Leroy Merlin, let’s call her ‘Madame’, because that’s what she also calls me. My initial conversation with all the bathroom staff, and believe me, shop staff in places like this really are pretty knowledgeable, if occasionally a bit rigid in their viewpoints, involved a lot of sucking teeth. They had a made ‘sur mesure’ service but their computer programme was only set up to register modifications of glass sizes to the sides and the top of the shower screens. Definitely not to the bottoms! To complicate matters the fabricators were based in Germany, but at least on the same time zone, although some of the delays to respond might have had us thinking otherwise!

However Madame asked me to go home and measure millimeter by millimeter the fall across my shower tray. After that she seemed to decide that she was going to resolve the conundrum by hell or high water. The only trouble is that Madame is only available on a Friday.

It seems that Madame and I are more switched on than the German company, as we kept getting back quotes for shower screens with doors that had to open against the slope. As much as I might wish it, i cannot squeeze my body through a 2cm gap once the door grinds to a halt against the slope of the shower tray, no matter how much I wish otherwise.

Madame and I have been sending each other many encouraging emails – once a week!

On Friday she was just emailing me when I physically entered the store. In the excitement at the latest development we entirely forgot to shake hands and greet each other before getting down to business. She realized about 5 minutes into the conversation, and stopped, a little shocked by her lack of manners ( and presumably mine as well), paused, and vigorously shook my hand with a “bonjour Madame” before resuming the partially completed sentence of moments before.

It appears we might be nearly there. The German contact has realised that the hinges have to go on the lower side of the door. Madame has advised me that it would be worth measuring everything again as a final check because once it finally does arrive there’s no recourse for errors.

But while we are waiting, we can at least admire the handiwork, and use the basin, carefully constructed and installed by ‘husband a la maison’ which has no awkward slopes except for where they’re meant to be. The marble to support the basin was found in our attic, broken in two and we glued it back together. The little basin table was found in a brocante and modified to incorporate the basin itself.

Not only that, but I am very excited to present the long searched for mirror. ‘Husband a la maison’ picked it up for 20€ at Emauus, which he is especially pleased about since I gave him the “do you really need to go there again speech ” a few minutes before he departed. And as if to add the cherry to the cake, it even has birds carved onto it which mirrors my curtains perfectly!

Now all that there is left to do is to decide which lights to use above the sink – but perhaps you can help us with that!

If we are all really lucky I may have a shower before Christmas!

Shower screen willing!

Chatou Brocante and Antiques


We’ve been doing a bit of work on the house again, and this time the shower-room is taking shape. There just the physical water connection, a shower screen and a mirror left to do, and when it comes to mirrors, there’s nothing better than trying to pick up an antique one, especially when the antiques faire at Chatou is on.

We’d never been to this particular fair before and so didn’t know what to expect. The brocante is laid out on a small island in the middle of the river Seine, just outside of Paris. It was mid-week so not too many people were there, but it was huge and fabulous, and there were plenty of makeshift restaurants to choose from in the middle of the day.img_1325-2

What I liked best was the artistry of some of the stands, and there was plenty that I would have loved to buy, though the mirror remained elusive!img_1310img_1311img_1326

There were so many amazing urns and cloches, but our bartering didn’t manage to get us any bargains!img_1327I so nearly went for the pineapple, but “husband chez nous” didn’t look away for long enough.. it was after all “mission mirror”!img_1316I loved this one, a grey and gilt trumeau mirror….the price was to die for too!

And after all, why have one when you can have three!img_1318-1img_1322img_1330

So many lovely things that it was hard to head home.img_1309img_1319

But since the great mirror hunt continues, there’s still the excuse to come back for more. The basin is very lonely all by itself.

French Shutters.


One of the things I love most about my house are it’s shutters. We use our shutters often, to keep out the heat of the summer’s day, to trap the cool in the house and let a gentle flow of air pass through the louvres , or to batten down the hatches against the noisy winter storms.

Last summer we started on the onerous task of painting the windows of our house. The windows are a century old, the paint is almost non-existant, peeling from decades of strong sunlight. But the windows are in deep reveals protecting them from the vagiaries of the weather and the wood is in good condition. The windows that we finished last summer looked wonderful in their new coat of paint, but sadly the shutters were left lacking.

Last summer we also attempted to renovate a pair of shutters, but we knew almost immediately that we would never manage the deep louvred openings and so started looking for someone who had the equipment necessary to do a good job.

One of the things that makes France such a wonderful place to live is the presence of small enterprises which are capable of undertaking craftmens jobs with skill in abundance. We found a four man team who could sandblast and hot-seal spray paint the shutters, and with whom the whole business was undertaken with jovial good humour, a fair amount of negotiating on price, and an analysis of what team we would support if France, Scotland and England were up against each other in a rugby final.

Yesterday we collected our first two pairs of shutters. “Husband à la maison”, in a moment of extreme enlightenment and wisdom, had recommended we only sent two pairs of our twelve pairs of shutters to be renovated at a time. Each pair of shutters has at least two panels and up to six. When our two pairs of shutters were returned, we lay them on the grass and set to, with much scratching of heads and a tape measure to try to pair them up again.With each matched shutter the process became more and more simple as the possible matching options reduced. Hanging them up again was another question entirely.


It’s a lesson in motivation, for no sooner are the painted shutters rehung, than the unpainted windows behind them need to be renovated. 

In France, if you leave your house unoccupied for more than two weeks you are obliged to close up the shutters or risk violating your house insurance. In reality most people close their shutters even if they are only absent for a weekend.

For us it’s a race to the finish or we may have to stay at home all summer until we’ve completed them.

But that’s another story!

Big Jobs Hanging Over Our Heads.


When we first moved into our house it was 10 days before Christmas two years ago. The house was barely habitable but we made the best of it, and somehow we didn’t notice the peeling wallpaper and paint just metres from our dining table. The first new year I set to task to repair the one wall and boxed-in beam where a burst pipe had left ugly paper and plaster hanging by threads. A year later I patched and finished the remaining walls with lining-paper but never got round to painting them because hanging over my head was an even bigger problem, a problem which didn’t easily give itself to a solution – the ceiling!

Our house had only been owned by one family before us, and when we bought it the resident was 87 years old and known by many to be miserly. Certainly he had never made any repairs or upgraded the decor. When the dresser was pulled away from the wall, the paper behind it came off the wall in one entire sheet. Often closed up, the house had suffered from the damp and neglect, and gradually the paint on many ceilings, and especially that of the diningroom, had quite literally bcome unstuck and dangled in curly peelings above our heads.

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For two years the ceiling laughed at me from above and I wondered whether it wasn’t time to call in the professionals as only a month or so after scraping off one lot of peeling ceiling paint, the previously solid edges in their turn would decide to peel.

But then suddenly with another Christmas around the corner, I reasoned that if I took the matter to task, and simply in turn failed to do a decent job, well then was the time for the plaquist, as the french plasterer is called. It seemed worth having a go and trying to turn the dining room around for this, our third Christmas in the house.

And so suddenly, last week, with the lull that comes at the end of the tourist season, and with the christmas season hot on its heels, I hauled myself to the top of a ladder and braced myself for what probably is the most unpleasant renovation job, because the one thing about repairing a ceiling is that the only place for the dirt and detritus to fall, is on you!

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There were two huge cracks nearly the full width of the room!wp_20161119_0031

Large chunks of plaster pulled away when touched!wp_20161119_0071

More paint came off the ceiling than stayed on as I scratched at it!wp_20161119_0011

and even the moulded coving paint was crazed and loose!

After several days of sanding and filling the ceiling resembled something like this…

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After filling all those holes in the ceiling and all the crazing in the coving, there was only one thing to do – sand it all smooth. I ended up white from head to toe with plaster dust and there was only one place for me at the end of all that – in the shower!

What “husband à l’étranger” wasn’t expecting however was a call to arms, because I reasoned that the only way forward, to seal those nasty little  paint edges from peeling in their turn, was to wallpaper over the lot. French wallpaper has one major failing, it is a metre wide, far wider than english paper, and when you have a three metre strip of 1800 grade heavily covered in wallpaper paste, it becomes extremely unwealdy and extremely heavy. “Husband à l’etranger did try to persuade me just to paint the ceiling, but his pleas fell on deaf ears.

I apologised to my co-worker in advance for any expletives that might be uttered in the course of the undertaking and explained that any directed insults should be seen as “heat of the moment” and not taken to heart. He was quick to concur!

So it was we found ourselves straddled between several step-ladders, long-handled brooms propping the renegade corners, and covered with liberal dollops of glue, desperately guiding and  coaxing the unwilling paper to stick to the ceiling and then to ensure that the subsequent pieces lay alongside without gaps, overlaps or bubbles. Several desperate and frantic hours later the job was done.

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It took a night to dry, and gingerly the next morning I opened the diningroom door to see the result of our efforts. I’m happy to say that the ceiling was smooth and bubble-free!img_00161

There was just the question of painting  the walls…img_00341

in The Little Green Company “French Grey”.(…of course!)img_00411

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and all we have to do now is decorate it for Christmas!

Continuing the Renovations -Attacking the Bedroom!


It occurred to me that I haven’t updated on the renovation process for a while. As with many projects, you take a huge leap forward, and then revelling in the new transformed state of things, it goes onto the back-burner, although really it isn’t finished at all. Such is the case with the master bedroom which I started a year ago and is now starting to cry for attention again. Here is the bedroom before the last owner, an elderly gentleman in his 90’s moved out.Annonce1-photo8 (1)

It’s not normal that I would seek to put my bedroom in front of those of the kids, but an unhappy chapter of events made it happen that way. Days before our moving date, on visiting the now empty house, it was immediately obvious that the house was filthy, and a quick run over with a hoover just wasn’t going to do the job. A fabulous friend of mine offered (in, I suppose, a momentary absence of sense) to help me wash the carpets with a hired machine. A back-breaking day of intense labour later, after several buckets of black water had been thrown out, the carpets were altgether a different colour, if smelling suspiciously of drying sheep!

That should have been the end of the story; only it wasn’t. By the day of arrival of all our furniture, a full week later, one carpet had stubbornly refused to dry and smelt so strongly that nothing short of leaving the door closed, and the windows wide open (it was december), night and day, protected the rest of the house from its awful stench. My bed was erected in the sitting-room, and stayed there for three months!

Then one day in march, I woke with  a spring in my step and decided that that would be the day that the carpet would be ripped up and thrown out. So imagine my disappointment when I discovered that the darn thing had been stuck down to the floorboards with a powerful glue.

Once the carpet was disposed of, the little old man in the ‘Bricolage’, (Do it yourself shop) recommended a glue solvant called ‘decapant’ and I set to work with a a paintbrush, spatula and the windows open as far as possible to let out the noxious fumes. A couple of days later I had finished the job, but left a few more before hiring a floor-sander (ponceuse) in case the friction of the sanding belt sparked the highly inflammable solvant residue!WP_20150217_002WP_20150217_001The sanding machine took a little getting used to, and I was thwarted early on by the fact that the sander had a miniscule cable of about half a metre, and clearly I should have an earthed extension cable (rallonge) to make the distance across the room in question to the power source. I might add that since the power supply to the house was not itself earthed, it was unsuprising that I didn’t actually have the appropriate cable, nor was I sure what good it would do, but was left to waste valuable hire time making a second journey to the bricolage.WP_20150222_001By the end of the evening, the main area of the room was transformed, and buzzing with the success of the day, heard myself eagerly agreeing with the hire company to hiring the ‘edge-sander’ to complete the job the next day when I took the drum sander back to them.

However, not all things carry on the way they are planned. Somewhere around 3am I woke with a pounding headache, and as the hours marched their way towards dawn, it occurred to me that I had succombed to the flu. Somehow I made it through the next day clinging onto a rather headstrong ‘edge-sander’, until finally, about the middle of the afternoon, I was no longer capable. The sander and I collapsed in a heap halfway across the ‘en-suite’ floor. The floor remains in the same state to this day, but thankfully I am back in one piece!

After the floor, the dismanteling of the corner cupboard, the filling of holes and the wallpapering of the walls was ease itself, although I did contend with a minor moment of anxiety and a bruise of two as my hand-sander exploded while I was at the top of the ladder smoothing down the uneven plasterwork, and I consequently went flying. I know, hand-sanders are not appropriate for plaster dust, the monsieur at the bricolage gave me quite a lecture on the subject…..after the event. My greatest find was a little ‘morceau’ of wall-paper with handpainted little birds on it. It was so pretty I wished there had been more of it to make a feature, but sadly it was so brittle that it fell apart in my hands.WP_20150128_009WP_20150128_001WP_20150222_005WP_20150128_004WP_20150222_004

Now, a few months on we have curtains, a pretty toile called ‘Charente Birds’, a little daringly in black and ‘white’. Our bed waits to be re-upholstered (whenever will I find the time!) and came from a ‘chateau sale’, my chair from the Rouen Puces (antiques fair) and upholstered by me before we moved (which was a very good idea in the circumstances considering the hefty list of things to do now we are in the house) and our wardrobe (photo to be added later) came from a wonderful organisation called Emmaus. Emmaus takes house-clearence furniture and sells it on using the unemployed and homeless as staff to create a profit and get those same people off benefits and back into employment. There are many great bargains to be found there, especially if you know what you are looking for.bedroom4

Now I’m just waiting for the motivation to tackle the windows, and  I know that they will be time-consuming and unpleasant, before finally finishing the final small area of electrical wiring and the skirings.

As for the half finished floor in the ‘en-suite’? Well the bath leaked into the sittingroom a few days ago, so it looks like that project is now on the urgent list, and it may be done sooner than we think!

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Everything but the kitchen sink!


Until the new year life rushed along in a frenetic whirl relentlesly moving us from one event to the next; and what a time with friends and far-distant family, good food, wine and merry-making! But December slid into January and for one small instant of time I sensed the “down” of that doldrum period that always comes just after Christmas. But it was one moment, a tiny glitch of time and then the building materials and tools called from where we had left them and we got stuck back in.

In a fit of whimsy months ago I had ordered a large cupboard and a new sink unit for my kitchen to replace the ones that have been serving us poorly since we bought the house. The ordering period was so long that by the time they arrived, only days before Christmas I had all but forgotten about them.

The night before they were due to be delivered the kitchen company rang apologetically – “ah, Madame, ..p’tit problème…” and went on to explain how they had written the wrong item number on the order sheet. The sink unit was very definitely not a sink unit but a bed!

Overnight we smashed out the existing corner cupboard (with handy mouse entry zone) and then of course once it was out, the kitchen was in a sorry state of decrepid walls and missing plaster – not to mention all the entire contents of my groceries spread on every available surface. “Lovely Daughter” and I spent many moments of hilarity reading the ‘best before dates’ on the backs of the backs of the packets and realising that I could practically match the can of chicken fillets relentlessly in my mother’s cupboard after 20 years (or so) before throwing a not inconsiderable amount out! Be warned everyone who has a triangular corner cupboard. That far corner of the shelf is the true location for all that disappears into the Bermuda Triangle.WP_20150103_007Of course when a new cupboard is about to arrive it’s always a good idea to paint the walls above where it will go, and then with paint still in the tray, before I knew it I had started on the ceiling, and then the rest of the walls and finally several hours later it was all, quite shockingly, complete, and I wondered why on earth I hadn’t removed the horrible orangey gloss wall paint months and months ago!WP_20160108_013

The old french chimney took the most amount of work. The old tiles were broken, and filthy when I first moved into the house, and in a fit of passion I had smashed half of them off the walls leaving a terrible mess in my wake just days after my arrival and then lived with it like that ever since. It’s amazing what a small amount of plasterboard, fibreboard and paint can do.

 

Our Christmas jaunt to get paint (at half the price of french) from an english DIY centre left us with empty hands. Only I can take months to reach a decision on paint colour only to arrive in the UK to find that isn’t in stock!

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But in the end I found myself relieved at the lack of new the kitchen sink unit, because now we get a pause to enjoy what we’ve accomplished so far before tackling the plumbing!

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So far it’s been a piece of cake!